As other beach areas shed their bikesharing stations, with 15 to be removed this week, Imperial Beach is paving ground for the new wave; dockless.
On September 6, the Imperial Beach City Council passed a resolution giving the green light to LimeBike, a San Mateo startup that will bring a fleet of 250 free-range cruisers.
A six-month trial will help the city figure out things like where to add more bike racks, said assistant city manager Steve Dush, comparing it to the way colleges may put in sidewalks once a path is established.
"We're trying to be smart about it because we don't know where they're all going to go,” said Dush.
Poor planning is one reason bikesharing has run into potholes in San Diego, which partnered with DecoBike to roll out the carbon-free transportation network in 2015. Bikesharing is a key part of the city's climate action plan, making it easy to rent a bike from an unattended kiosk and return it to any station with an open dock. But not long after the program launched, a county grand jury report found it faltering.
DecoBike was failing to deliver the "last mile" promise that brought them here in the first place. The kiosks were in the wrong places, not linked to transit stops, too wide for some beach streets, and resisted by transit officials in tourist areas like Balboa Park.
"If DecoBike cannot site kiosks where they will further the program’s planning and financial goals, it will fail," the report predicted. Now, many of the stations are being relocated to downtown and other areas closer to mass transit. With LimeBike, the problem of where to put kiosks comes down to racks that are easier to move. Users will help decide the best locations as the city receives monthly data from the company showing where the bikes are congregating.
"Bikes will be staged where bikes would normally go," Dush said. They'll likely be around bus stations, places of employment, hotels, and bike paths. "They'll be going outside our city limits as well." The bikes rent for $1 for each half-hour; can be rented any time, day or night; are found and unlocked via a smartphone app; and can be left anywhere. Their ease of drop-off has also been a glitch in the Uber-style bikesharing company, which is now operating in several cities.
Unlike DecoBike, the program is no cost to the city, but in some places, headaches have followed.
What if people leave them all over?, asked councilmember Ed Spriggs. Nothing prevents riders from just putting down a kickstand, locking up and leaving bikes on streets or lawns, wherever the trip ends, he noted. "Who takes care of that situation, if they're blocking sidewalks?"
In China, which helped make dockless bikes popular, that's exactly what happened, leaving people in an uproar over bikes piling up in business entryways and on sidewalks. "You leave it where you normally would leave a bike," Dush said.
The city's agreement, which can be terminated after six months, says the bikes can't block sidewalks. If they do, a regional coordinator will be notified and they'll be picked up. Colin McMahon, who is setting up LimeBike's program in San Diego, told the council the company will hire a local ground crew, with service requests usually handled within an hour. The bikes have GPS tracking, he said, so they can see who had it last and weed out the bad riders.
Another complaint about far-flung bikeshare companies is that they're competing against local bike shops. But no one at the meeting knew of any shops that might be harmed. The new bike shop at Bikeway Village doesn't do rentals, Dush said.
Councilmember Robert Patton said some San Diego beach towns want to be rid of Florida-based DecoBike because it hurts local businesses. "We're just the opposite." LimeBike is coming to a town without bike shops or rentals. "They're here first. I would want to make sure that if a bike shop does come in, they can't say, ‘Let's get rid of LimeBike because they're hurting our business.'"